Originally created 09/30/05

Woman accused of defrauding Red Cross



AIKEN - Police are looking for a woman accused of scamming the Aiken chapter of the American Red Cross by claiming to be a victim of Hurricane Katrina.

Rebecca Ann Richard will be charged with obtaining money under false pretenses once she is arrested, said Detective Marty Sawyer of the Aiken Department of Public Safety. Her last known address was in the 500 block of Peggy Circle in Warrenville, though she also reportedly lived in the Jackson area.

The charge is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $1,087.50 fine.

Aiken authorities said the 31-year-old lied about living in New Orleans during Katrina and gave Red Cross officials a fake name for her husband, who was living in the devastated area.

But, Detective Sawyer said, the investigation "proves that she was in Aiken before, after and during Katrina."

Christy Dvorscak, the manager of the Aiken chapter of the American Red Cross, said an acquaintance with whom Ms. Richard had been staying called the organization and tipped it off to the alleged scam.

The information the Red Cross received indicated that Ms. Richard has lived in the area, specifically Jackson, since 2004. Detective Sawyer said it appears she has been living in the area off and on since then and had spent time in Morgan City, La., about 50 miles west of New Orleans, as recently as August.

Ms. Richard provided a Louisiana driver's license when she applied for aid, Ms. Dvorscak said.

She declined to say how much money the organization had given Ms. Richard, but a police report indicates it was $665.

"We take fraud cases very seriously," Ms. Dvorscak said. "The Red Cross will prosecute when necessary. Right now, we're just working this out with the police department."

Ms. Dvorscak said she called the national organization for guidance after the Aiken chapter learned of the alleged scam last week. Officials there told her to call police, and she filed a report Wednesday.

According to the report, Ms. Richard received the money Sept. 15 after claiming that she had fled New Orleans and abandoned her home there.

According to Ms. Dvorscak, the Aiken Red Cross chapter has assisted with 111 cases related to Katrina, helping 256 victims.

Victims who provide proper identification can apply for money to buy food, clothing and other immediate needs or for alternative housing.

Much of the assistance is in the form of vouchers that can be used at stores, she said.

"This isn't something we're used to dealing with, frankly," she said of the scam.

Anyone with information on Ms. Richard's location is asked to call Detective David Savage of Aiken Public Safety at (803) 642-7620.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.